2020 has been a crazy year, and guess what? It’s not over yet. While we are still dealing with unusual circumstances and different challenges, we have all, to some degree, learned to roll with the punches over the last six months or so. But as we all devised solutions for issues we did not anticipate facing, questions still remain. As we reflected on DMEC’s annual (virtual conference) and our discussions with our employer clients and vendors, we started jotting those blurry areas and came up with nine items that are top-of-mind for benefits, HR and absence management professionals.
For the most part, employees that are able to telework are still doing so, a practice largely encouraged or required by employers. This is a safer and, in some ways, easier alternative and we are lucky to have the technology to support remote working. Each employee has a different home situation and their preference for remote working versus office working will depend on things like:
- Where are their more distractions – at home, or at the office?
- Do they have children at home that they are also homeschooling?
- Do they have at-risk individuals in their home?
- Do they have adequate space for a work setup conducive to productivity?
As teleworking continues for many employers further into 2020 and possibly beyond, companies need to be thinking about:
- Do employees in remote areas have sufficient internet access?
- Do employees have the equipment and amenities they need to do their job?
- How will long-term or permanent teleworking affect corporate culture and camaraderie? What about the impacts on mental health?
- Rethinking communications and management strategies in a virtual world.
- Work-life balance issues and difficulties with shutting off work when working from home.
The consensus seems to be that regular communication, check-ins and different types of collaboration are a must. Employers may want to conduct surveys to gauge employee stress levels, the support they feel while teleworking and family and home situations. One DMEC session reported that employers rated their teleworking experience as better than their employees did. Be sure to stay connected to ensure alignment.
Encourage employees to set boundaries and stick to them. Maybe they need an extended lunch hour to tend to their children’s needs, or they need a hard stop at the end of the day to ensure they disconnect from work, or they need 30 minutes a day to go for a walk to make sure they leave their house that day. Flexibility and compassion are key themes this year.
2. Workplace Safety
To be clear, teleworking is strongly encouraged when possible, but depending on the job itself or the industry of the employer, there are going to be people who cannot do their job remotely. When that’s the case, workplace safety takes on a lot more weight these days. Some of our recommendations are:
- Creating a social distance plan, which could mean spreading out workspaces and/or designated one-way aisles for walking.
- Requiring temperature checks each time an employee enters the building (this must be done confidentially and consistently for all employees). This might even include returning from a lunch or coffee break.
- Installing plexiglass around workspaces.
- Providing hand sanitizer, masks and thermometers for staff.
- Installing antimicrobial door handles.
- Propping doors open when possible so people can avoid high-touch areas.
- Prohibiting non-employees from entering the office, such as vendors.
- Implementing visual displays so people understand the proper distance to keep, where they should walk, where the high touch areas are, etc.
- Assessing air ventilation in the office for possible improvements.
As a note, it is permissible for employers to require personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace, as well as to require testing for employees. In some cases, when possible, some employers are going further and considering things like changing job responsibilities or moving the location of the job to a safer area. For example, perhaps you have a satellite office in a less infected region than headquarters that an employee can report to. Commuting concerns are something metropolitan businesses will need to address.
Some of these changes may be costly and timely, but some are simple. While the wellbeing of employees should always be top of mind for employers, there are other things at stake too. Failing to take preventative safety measures in the workplace could easily lead to workers’ compensation claims and OSHA lawsuits.
Stay tuned for #’s 3 and beyond…
About the Author
Partner at Spring Consulting Group, an Alera Group Company
Karen Trumbull English, CPCU, ARM, ACI, AU is a Partner with Spring Consulting Group, formerly Watson Wyatt Insurance & Financial Services, Inc. She has twenty years of experience that spans across both health & welfare and property & casualty arenas, and routinely works with her clients on program strategy, product development, process improvement and market research initiatives. She leads the firms’ health and productivity approach and is actively involved in voluntary and other emerging benefits. Prior to joining Spring Consulting Group and Watson Wyatt, Karen led the regional risk & insurance practice for a small consulting firm, held the role of Assistant Risk Manager for one of the nation’s largest banks (U.S. Bank), and was a casualty broker for two of the world’s largest insurance brokers (Marsh and Aon). Karen has her BBA in Risk Management and Human Resources from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her MBA in Finance from University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management. She has also earned the designations of CPCU, ARM, ACI, and AU and is a licensed insurance broker.